Thursday 19 July 2018

Candy, chill-zones and sushi: how the Silicon Kids gentrified us

Retro: The Airbnb offices in Ringsend, Dublin. Photo: El Keegan
Retro: The Airbnb offices in Ringsend, Dublin. Photo: El Keegan

Damian Corless

Twelve years ago this week, The IT Crowd, created by Dubliner Graham Linehan, premiered on British TV. In episode one, as newbie Jen coos over the unisex loos, boss Denholm Reynholm tells her: "That's the sort of place this is Jen. A lot of sexy people not doing much work and having affairs!"

That was 2006, when Reynholm could have spearheaded the recruitment drive luring talented tech-heads to a notorious jobs blackspot undergoing as an audacious rebrand as Ireland's 'Silicon Docks'. Almost overnight, Dublin's docklands became a honeypot for sexy people seeking top pay for not much work, with office romances almost mandatory. The crash two years later brought economic winter to this island, but by then, Dublin's docklands had imported its own microclimate from its sunny Silicon Valley namesake.

Like the first European settlers in America, the colonists plonked down in little patches of the old country amidst the grime and cobblestones of dreary Dublin. These eco-spheres provided their melting pot workforce with chill-out zones, games rooms and canteens serving six types of coffee, 12 types of gluten-free bread and 57 varieties of 'candy' with stupid names like Oreos and Twinkies.

And as these sexy new arrivals ventured beyond their workplace bubbles, they transformed their surroundings. Wherever shortly before there had stood a sleepy greasy spoon café bleating country and western on the wireless, there was now a bustling Wi-Fi hotspot sushi bar. Meanwhile, the pub next door had dumped its trademark cracked Formica counter, squelchy brownish carpet and slashed red plastic seats, rebranding as a hopping Micronesian microbrewery with baseball games across 12 screens.

This regeneration, or gentrification, or clearance, of the docklands seems to have happened overnight, but it started while the country was still stuck in the last recession. It began on the north quays with the arrival of the Financial Services Centre (IFSC) in the gloomy 1980s. A demand for business lunches started a growth spurt in trendy restaurants nearby, while traditional pubs became 'Traditional Pubs' by hanging tractor parts from their ceilings, with some even installing indoor toilets and inaugurating a bizarre ritual of putting out free cocktail sausages at Friday knocking-off time.

By the time the first Starbucks arrived in 2005, the makeover that began with the IFSC was transforming the entire waterfront, and the city far beyond the docks. The arrival of the silicon giants didn't bring much that was radically new in shifts of taste and culture, which were part of a wider change wrought by globalisation. What they did do, however, when they chose to cluster in Ireland, was to greatly fast-track the existing pace of change from dial-up modem to high-speed broadband.

'Hot Desking'

Many of the newfangled ideas the silicon giants did bring were decidedly for the worse, such as the 'hot desk', which tramples with sociopathic spite all over the basic human instinct to rest, nest and Google. Like the GIs flooding Britain during WWII, the silicon kids are charged with destabilising society on account of being "oversexed, overpaid and over here", but they have done their bit to lift the doom and gloom of the past decade in more ways than just enriching mircoflat landlords.

When a flatlining economy made staying in the new going out, as it remains for many, the silicon supernerds came to our rescue with next generation upon next generation of gaming consoles, streaming devices, wonder-apps, and home entertainment marvels our parents (or slightly older siblings) could never have dreamed of. Indeed, they may even have kept revolution off our streets.

Though that could be another for the 'bad' list, along with unisex loos and the rest.

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